Firefighters to march in protest at cuts in engine crew numbers

Firefighters will march through the streets of Hull this weekend to protest at plans to cut the number of crew attending emergency calls.

Around 170 jobs could be phased out amongst firefighters and managers at Humberside Fire and Rescue Service if the plans are agreed at a meeting of Humberside Fire Authority on January 24.

The Fire Brigades Union says it wants to raise awareness of proposals to reduce the number of crew manning fire engines from five to four – a practice the brigade says already happens elsewhere.

However the FBU insists the fifth member of the team has a "safety- critical role" and the move could cause delays, firefighters having to wait for back-up before committing themselves to enter a burning building.

Ian Murray, of the FBU, said: "The public don't seem to be aware of the impact of what these cuts mean. You have management saying fire safety won't be affected, but that couldn't be further from the truth. We are firmly of the belief that the lives of firefighters and the public will be put at risk.

"In Hull currently they are riding fives and fours – which means the first engine has five and the second four crew. "They are proposing to go down to four and four.

"Central Scotland has just passed a resolution to ride five and fives and we are not aware of anywhere that have fours as standard."

Firefighters will be meeting at Queens Gardens at noon on Saturday, and then will march through the streets before returning for a rally which will be addressed by th general secretary of the FBU, Matt Wrack.

Mr Wrack said yesterday: "Cuts in frontline firefighters really do cost lives.

"Fewer firefighters means you wait longer after dialling 999.

"In firefighting, every second counts. A few seconds extra waiting time means that one day, someone in Humberside will die whom we could otherwise have saved."

The union is also concerned about changes to the crewing of specialist appliances, the introduction of small fire units – two crew in a pick-up truck – to tackle minor blazes and "stringent" new contracts for retained firefighters, setting out when they are expected to work.

But Humberside Fire and Rescue said it would not compromise either the safety of its own firefighters or the public. The officer in charge of the Integrated Risk Management Plan, Daryl Oprey, a firefighter for 25 years, said the brigade could run as efficiently using less resources.

Mr Oprey said: "Some firefighters accept there has to be change in the way they work; others are more resistant. It's our job as senior managers to provide the best service as efficiently as we can for the council taxpayer and I feel there's still a long way to go.

"It's not just about the 170 jobs, efficiencies are being made right across the service."

He added: "Every fire and rescue service has safe systems of work which enable professional managers and firefighters to dynamically assess the risk and implement a safe system of work, whether five turn up first or four turn up first."

Mr Oprey added: "In Humberside we have maintained one of the highest response times in the country, based on how quickly we get our first and second appliance to a fire, and we will still maintain that. The public won't see any difference."

He added: "We are not as efficient as other fire and rescue services. There's an acknowledgement that other fire and rescue services have done an awful lot more to make themselves more efficient. We would have proposed these changes even if there hadn't been an economic recession.

"We can run as effectively with fewer resources."

Consultation is still continuing on the proposals. Views can be registered by visiting www.humbersidefire.gov.uk or by writing to Freepost NEA3610, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service, Hull, HU4 7BR, between now and December 31.